Sunday, May 05, 2013

Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers

Robert Randolph Presents
The Slide Brothers
Dare Records/Concord Music Group (2013)

By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog

Sacred steel guitar, like its cousin, the electric guitar, and the Hammond B3 organ, can mimic the human voice in all of its emotions, but most especially the extreme highs and lows.  Since agony and ecstasy are no strangers to the table of the Lord, it makes sense that sacred steel is a bonafide church instrument.

Presented by Robert Randolph, whose family of slide players helped introduce sacred steel to the world outside the church, the Slide Brothers are Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, and Chuck and Darick Campbell.  The Campbells hail from the celebrated Campbell Brothers ensemble of slide musicians.  Ghent’s uncle was Willie Eason, whose slide work once accompanied the Soul Stirrers.  Cooke is considered the “B.B. King of Steel Guitar.”  Small wonder Robert, who cameos on the album with Marcus Randolph, considers the foursome “a major influence and an inspiration.” 

The Slide Brothers' self-titled debut album runs the gamut from gutbucket blues “The Sky is Crying” and a smoking hot retooling of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”—sung by Blind Boys alumnus Jimmy Carter—to an instrumental version of “Wade in the Water” that, in the hands of the steel guitar, is at turns ethereal and seething.  The group also covers Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children,” which gospel historian Anthony Heilbut has posited is one of the first, if not the first, gospel blues.

Outstanding blues songstress Shemekia Copeland leads Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” and  the group performs “It Hurts Me Too,” a classic from Thomas Dorsey’s blues companion, Tampa Red.

The most enjoyable track on the album is the last selection.  “No Cheap Seats in Heaven” is a semi-tongue-in-cheek piece that evokes the Golden Gate Quartet’s lyrical depiction of a prejudice-free eternity in “No Segregation in Heaven.”  Heaven, for the Slide Brothers, is a place where everything is first class and there are no lines or distinctions between classes and races.  The steel guitar squeals in delight at the thought of such a forever after.

Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers will appeal to fans of traditional gospel as well as Americana roots music and the blues.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Wade in the Water,” “No Cheap Seats in Heaven.”

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